Patterns of mtDNA variation reveal complex evolutionary history of a relict and endangered peat bog pine

Assessments of eco-evolutionary mechanisms that shape the genetic structure of populations are important to understand the influence of environmental changes on plant ecosystems.In recent years, molecular markers greatly improved our ability to assess genetic differentiation within and among species. However, due to genome complexity and limited access to suitable genomic resources, phylogenetic investigations remain challenging, especially in many non-model plant species. Assessments of species boundaries and their underlying population structure are needed not only to improve taxonomic knowledge, but also to properly guide decision-making in conservation of endangered tree species

Pinus uncinata trees. Image credit: Joan Simon on Wikimedia (distributed under a CC license; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pinus_mugo_uncinata_trees.jpg)

In a recent study published in AoBP, Łabiszak et al. used newly developed mitochondrial DNA markers to investigate the relationship between three closely related European pine species (Pinus uliginosa, Pinus mugo and Pinus uncinata). The study focussed specifically on the assessment of genetic structure of Pinus uliginosa– a peat bog pine uniquely adapted to nutrient sparse bog environments that is highly endangered due to environmental changes and habitat loss. Surprisingly, the authors found evidence of strong differentiation between neighbouring populations of this species and also signatures of hybridization events, shaping it’s contemporary genepool. These results improve current taxonomic knowledge in the studied Pinus mugo complex and could also serve as a basis for development of successful conservation strategies for peat bog pine.

Researcher highlight

Bartosz Łabiszak

Bartosz Łabiszak obtained a BSc and Master’s Degree in Biology from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. Since 2016, he has been conducting a PhD in biology under the supervision of Dr. Witold Wachowiak, also in Poznań.

Bartosz is interested in population genetics, phylogeography and speciation history of forest tree species, especially those with small and fragmented populations. In his PhD, he investigates signatures of speciation and hybridization phenomena in Pinus mugocomplex, and its close relatives.

Further reading

Łabiszak, B., Zaborowska, J., & Wachowiak, W. (2019). Patterns of mtDNA variation reveal complex evolutionary history of relict and endangered peat bog pine (Pinus uliginosa). AoB PLANTS, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.1093/aobpla/plz015